In this VETgirl online veterinary continuing education blog, Karlene Belyea, MBA, VP of Wellness at Mission Veterinary Partner reviews how to “wag more, bark less” and find happiness in veterinary medicine. She also reviewed how to find happiness at work and at home in a VETgirl webinar here, so check that out too!

By Karlene Belyea, MBA, VP of Wellness, Mission Veterinary Partners

Studies show that expressing a positive attitude improves resilience, engagement, energy and profitability. The human brain is wired to be negative, but neuroscience has proven that anyone can become more positive with appropriate tools. Learn ways to handle negative people, diffuse conflict and create more personal and professional happiness!

In the middle of a pandemic, it’s tough to be happy. We are burned out, overwhelmed, exhausted, anxious, out of our comfort zones and depressed. So…what determines happiness, and can we become happier? According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph. D. from the University of California Riverside, genetics determine 50% of our happiness. That means that if we grew up with happy parents, we’re likely to be pretty happy, too. 10% of our happiness depends on external circumstances, so if you’re sleeping in a nice bed rather than on the street, you’re probably happier. The great part is that 40% of our happiness depends on our actions and thoughts. We can focus on impacting our own happiness using these strategies!

Control Your Thoughts
Often, we say things like I’ll be happy when… “I pay off my student loans,” “I buy a house,” “I get married,” “I find the perfect job,” etc. The happiness myth says: If we work hard and become successful, we will be happy. But the happiness truth is: If we are happy now, we are more successful.

Women jumping happiness

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

Becoming more aware of our thoughts is key. What you think about, you bring about. Our words and thoughts are where our focus is. Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you are right.” We know from experience that if we feel confident that we can do something, we are much more likely to be successful at it.

We also tend to be great at negative self-talk, but we can learn how to turn around our negative thoughts. Sometimes you have to tell the negative committee in your head to just sit down and shut up. The goal is to love and be kind to ourselves. We can help by recognizing and stopping self-criticism and treating ourselves like we treat loved ones. Try saying something nice to yourself in the mirror every day.

Train Your Brain to Think More Positively
Your brain typically looks for whatever is easy. It’s impacted by fear, negativity, freeze, fight or flight. This is automatic and unconscious. Becoming more aware of your thoughts is key to changing this pattern. Periodically ask yourself, “What are my thoughts right now?” If your thoughts are negative, redirect them. Step 1 is to become more aware of your thoughts. Step 2 is to redirect negative thoughts by asking, “What is the opposite of the negative thing?” Let’s say, for example, you are craving a coffee from Starbucks. You glance over and there’s a huge line of people waiting that’s out the door. Immediately, your thoughts begin to tell you that it will take forever to get the coffee, people in line will be unfriendly, and it will be cold waiting outside. At that point ask yourself, “What is the opposite of these negative thoughts?” Perhaps the line will go quickly, and you’ll meet a couple friendly people while waiting. It takes time to train your mind to do this but be patient. You’ll get better at it. Our negative thoughts lead to negative emotions and impulses, so try to catch them before ruining your own day. Remember that thoughts are not necessarily true.

Here are two other ideas to help train your brain to be more positive. Think of 3-4 words that describe your ideal self and focus on those words 3 times a day. Put them in your phone and have them come up as an alarm to remind you. You can also try asking yourself positive questions 3-4 times a day like, “What am I incredibly grateful for right now?”, “How could I surprise someone right now?”, “How could I have fun right now?” or “How could I demonstrate love or excellence right now?” Try this for 30 days and you’ll recognize a shift in your life. The more you take action, the more your brain is conditioned to understand “that’s what we do.”

Promote an Attitude of Gratitude
Have you ever noticed you can’t be angry or fearful and grateful at the same time? Neuroscience has shown us that being grateful increases happiness. Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, conducted a study on the physical outcomes of gratitude. In this study, 1/3 of subjects kept a daily gratitude journal, 1/3 wrote about daily irritations and the last 1/3 wrote anything they wanted. After 10 weeks, the gratitude group was more optimistic, positive, physically active and healthier. Try creating a gratitude journal and writing down 3 things you’re grateful for every day. Over time, it will help your brain to be less negative which will make you happier.

Expressing gratitude with a specific “thank you” is also a powerful way to motivate people to work harder. In addition, a study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude felt more positive toward that person and more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship.

Get Negative People Out of Your Life
Negative people affect your entire team and lower the productivity of everyone. Negativity is contagious and we’re wired to be empathetic. Emotional contagion is the phenomenon of having one person’s emotions and related behaviors directly trigger similar emotions and behaviors in others. To the extent that they are not in your immediate family, do what you can to get them out of your life. Here are a few ways to handle certain types of negative people:

Locomotives/Steamrollers – “It’s not OK to treat me like this anymore.”
Resisters – “Which part of this do you want to do?”
Not-My-Jobbers – “I don’t want to nag but if you want to get out of here by 10pm, you’ll need to help and pick up the pace.”
Rumormongers – “Why are you telling me this? I do not wish to be involved. Talk to the person directly.”
Pessimist – “What will help you feel better about this?”
Criticizers – “Give me specific feedback.”

Just as negative people can influence our brain, so too can we influence them. One way to do this is to try using a positive power lead. The first sentence spoken in any conversation sets the tone for the conversation. A power lead says you’re in a positive space and nudges others to look for something positive to say. You can start meetings with a gratitude power lead or emails by saying something like, “I hope you’re doing well.” You can also start conversations by giving a compliment. If you are with a negative person, try to speak first to set the tone.

Resolve Conflicts Quickly
Conflicts are inevitable at work; what matters is how you resolve them. Always use facts versus judgements. Here are a couple examples:

  • Judgement: “You are always late and not very reliable.” vs. Fact: “We started our meeting today at 8:30 and you weren’t here. This is the 2nd time this week that has occurred.”
  • Judgement: “You really need to keep your cool with clients.” vs. Fact: “I heard you raise your voice with Mrs. Smith this morning. Let’s talk about how to better handle her next time.”

When having a conflict, begin conversations from a place of curiosity and respect. Ask open-ended questions and listen with an open mind. Try reflective listening (saying some of their words back to them) to make sure the person knows they have your full attention. If you listen to them, they are much more likely to listen to you. Use “I” statements rather than “you” statements. The word “you” can imply that you are placing blame and people become defensive. Also, practice the pause; before judging, accusing or reacting harshly.

Girl with balloon

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

Improve Morale at Work
It’s estimated that we spend 90,000 hours of our lives at work. Consequently, we want to enjoy our jobs and the people we work with. Here are a few ways to do that:

  • Celebrate successes and little victories.
  • Recognize, reward and surprise people.
  • Add fun to meetings.
  • Treat mistakes as opportunities to improve and involving people in problem solving.
  • Show gratitude (specifically).
  • Use fist bumps, elbow bumps, and high fives.
  • Tell staff to leave work at work.
  • Create a monthly calendar with a different focus each month. The focus could be on gratitude, breathing for stress reduction, inspirational quotes, nutrition, hydration, celebrating obscure holidays, creating a work-free zone, mindfulness, physical fitness, volunteering, sleep hygiene, or promoting self-care.

Remember that life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness. Create positive change by putting yourself first, meditating, exercising, doing random acts of kindness, making social investments, letting go of perfectionism and learning to say “no.”

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